Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (20th Anniversary Edition)

Music Reviews Beastie Boys
Beastie Boys: Paul’s Boutique (20th Anniversary Edition)


Hip-hop’s first headphone album gets remastered, reissued and reimagined

By 1988, the Three Hip-Hop Stooges in the Beastie Boys—Adam “MCA” Yauch, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, and Michael “Mike D” Diamond—had already accomplished much in their short careers. They’d started out as a punk band (The Young Aborigines), opening shows for the likes of Bad Brains and Dead Kennedys. They released the first rap album (1986’s Licensed to Ill) to go to #1 on Billboard’s charts, becoming the first relevant white hip-hop act in the process. They introduced the world to the joys of “Brass Monkey.” They conducted a bacchanalian world tour complete with cage-dancing girls and a giant inflatable penis borrowed from the back pages of the Rolling Stones’ playbook. Perhaps most notable of all, they fought (via heavy rotation on MTV) for your inalienable right to party. These achievements notwithstanding, they’d taken a few knocks, too. Their Liverpool show had erupted in a riot that resulted in Horovitz’s arrest on assault charges. Their early success had prompted them to leave Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Records to sign with Capitol (resulting in a hailstorm of lawsuits/countersuits), which ultimately served as the catalyst for their decision to leave their beloved New York City altogether, relocating to the sunnier but less hospitable environs of Los Angeles in an effort to start somewhat afresh. So by the time 1989 rolled around, it was anybody’s guess as to what was going on within the group’s ever-clowning but tightly-knit internal dynamic.


Beneath the goofy frat-boys-in-da-hood posturing and clouds of cheeba smoke, the answer to that question was Paul’s Boutique—hip-hop’s first “headphone album” and a masterpiece of massiveness. To this day, it remains the finest selection in the Beastie Boys’ catalog, not to mention one of the greatest pop albums of all time, right up there with OK Computer, Revolver, Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde on the scale of universally recognized rock ‘n roll righteousness. What made it so was the difference between Rick Rubin’s metal-meets-pedal, bare-bones production style and the richly evocative cut-and-paste sampling favored by the Dust Brothers (Mike “E.Z. Mike” Simpson and John “King Gizmo” King), who stitched no fewer than 105 samples together to form the crazy-quilt of sound that gives Paul’s Boutique its cratedigger’s soul and musical backbone. Much as Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis has done using modern software tools, the Dust Brothers magically weaved together—sometimes within the context of a single song, such as the album’s hit, “Hey Ladies”—snippets from artists as disparate as Sweet, Kurtis Blow, Cameo, Kool & the Gang, Zapp and James Brown into a cohesive statement, one unimaginable beforehand and impossible to repeat since.

Hovering atop this wall of sound were lyrics unlike anything the Boys had attempted to date—a party-hopping, science-dropping orgy of pop culture that bobbed and weaved between anything from a daytime TV reference (dig the Brady Bunch bite when Ad-Rock busts out, “Like Sam the Butcher, bringin’ Alice the meat,” on “Shake Your Rump”), to local politics (“He’s even more over than my mayor, Ed Koch,” Ad-Rock spits on “Johnny Ryall”). Meanwhile, their epic love letter to New York City, the 12-minute-plus “B-Boy Bouillabaisse,” was a 26-track samplefest which managed to create mini-suites featuring Manhattan’s Chrystie Street subway stop, Jamaica Queens (“Stop That Train”) and MCA’s native Brooklyn, even from the relatively laid-back remove of El Lay. In hindsight, it’s clear that the boys were pining for home, and in many respects, Paul’s Boutique now reads like an extended letter from camp via a troop of slightly neurotic, emotionally-wrought but nevertheless fun-loving expatriates.

The album’s re-release adds no new music (a shame, considering the quality of such b-sides as “33% God” and “Dis Yourself in ’89 (Just Do It)”), but does include a downloadable file featuring track-by-track commentary from the Boys themselves reminiscing about some of the stories and characters behind the songs themselves, such as the tale of the real Johnny Ryall (“He was a bum on my stoop; Russell Simmons got on me for letting him wear one of our Def Jam satin tour jackets because it was so cold out!” remembers Mike D).

Regardless of whether anything “new” was included here, Paul’s Boutique nonetheless proves entirely worthy of a 20th anniversary re-release. The album is not only the Beastie Boys’ finest hour, nor is it indisputably one of hip-hop’s best albums; it’s a record that sits atop pop’s mountain as one of the best of all time. Kick it!

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